If You Are Not Obese, a Health Professional, or Obesity Researcher, Should Your “Idea” Count?

Yesterday, I applauded Canada’s Health Ministers for launching a National Dialogue on tackling childhood obesity. The Dialogue invites “youth 13-18”, “parents, teachers, and caregivers”, “NGOs, researchers, and health professionals”, “business”, and “interested Canadians” to share their ideas on this issue.

These are all important constituencies, perhaps with one small caveat. As one of my readers pointed out in response to yesterday’s post, referring to the numerous comments left on the CBC’s website:

“I, was appalled, yet not surprised, at the complete lack of public understanding of this issue. As I read the overwhelming negative feedback I am aware of how monumental the task of changing the general public perception and understanding will be. It is clear that the majority of respondents felt it was simply an eat less exercise more situation. Having suffered with obesity my entire life I can assure everyone it is so much more.”

This reader makes a very pertinent point. In fact, my own cursory review of some of the comments left on various media websites as well as some of the suggestions posted on the Our Health Our Future website, makes it evident that many of the folks leaving comments and “ideas” are simply voicing widely held stereotypical “opinions” that have little to do with the actual scientific evidence on this topic nor reflect the lived experience of someone who has struggled (or “conquered”) excess weight.

The majority of comments read along the lines of “punish the parents”, “tax foods”, “force kids to be more active”, “ban advertising”, “ban fast food”, etc.

Others comments reflect the typical “I have the solution, everyone else is just too stupid to see the obvious“, while proceeding to blame the whole issue on a single factor (carbohydrates, abusive parents, soft drinks, TV, lack of activity, environmental toxins, etc.).

While Health Canada clearly recognises the complexity of obesity by stating that:

“Healthy weight is influenced by a number of things, including your lifestyle, environment, metabolism (how quickly you transform food into energy), height, age, and family history/genetics.”

little appreciation of this complexity, let alone a clear solution to tackle this complex issue, is evident in the comments or ideas left on the media websites – with one notable exception: comments that are posted by people, who “confess” that they themselves are struggling with or have struggled with excess weight, are almost the only ones that make any sense at all.

This leads me to my rather bold statement that this dialogue is unlikely to be successful or even relevant, if most “ideas” come from people who voice “opinions” based on nothing more than their anti-fat bias, negative obesity stereotypes, or their simplistic pseudoscientific “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

For this campaign to have any relevance and even a remote hope of finding solutions, the only “opinions” that should matter are those of the very people that this dialogue is meant to help – people who actually have the problem or those who are knowledgeable enough about the topic because they have studied or researched it (and I do not consider spending a few hours on the internet browsing websites or reading popular “self-help” books research).

It seems that it is not the people with obesity that need to be “educated” on healthy eating and being physically active – but rather it is the people without obesity that need to “educated” on why ELMM (“eat less move more”) is such a blatantly unsuccessful long-term strategy for most people struggling with excess weight.

So here is my appeal to all my readers: please make sure that the people, who’s opinions should matter the most, take part in this dialogue:

If you are a youth 13-18 (struggling with excess weight click here).

If you are a parent (of an obese kid) or a teacher/caregiver (who is indeed knowledgeable about obesity) click here.

If you are an NGO, researcher, or health professional (who actually understands and works in the field of obesity) click here.

If you are a business (that is not just peddling a “weight-loss” program but truly understands the complexity of obesity) click here.

If you are an interested Canadian (who is actually struggling with excess weight (or has a kid with excess weight) and can speak from personal experience) click here.

Show your support for this Dialogue, make sure your voice is loud enough to drown out the “opinions” of the uninformed, the “shame and blame” mongers, and the people who have the “simple” answers. Please also do not hesitate to vote down the “ideas” that reflect these “opinions”.

I suggest that anyone leaving a comment on “Our Health Our Future” states their personal “qualifications” for their statements – let us hope that Health Canada will pay more attention to these “qualified” ideas than to mere “opinions”.

If you belong to one of the above “categories” and have not yet shown your support for the Canadian Obesity Awareness and Control Initiative for Health (COACH), click on the banner below.

Lake Louise, Alberta